Coast Guard Recreates ‘Christmas Tree’ Ship

The U.S. Coast Guard’s Ninth District on the Great Lakes has recreated a tradition of delivering Christmas trees to the Chicago docks by ship, in honor of a famous schooner that sank while carrying Christmas trees to Chicago.

On December 2, the Ninth District announced that the vessel Mackinaw would be delivering a load of Christmas trees. The vessel arrived at Chicago’s Navy Pier with 1,200 trees from northern Michigan. They will be distributed to organizations selected by the Chicago’s Christmas Ship Committee for needy families.

The event commemorates a tradition dating back to the late 1800s. The original “Christmas ship” was a three-masted schooner named the Rouse Simmons. Built in 1868, it changed hands several times. By 1910, it was owned by Capt. Herman Schuenemann, whose schooner crew was among several crews doing late-season Christmas tree runs, bringing evergreens from northern Michigan and Wisconsin to Chicago’s docks.

On November 23, 1912, the ship sank off of Two Rivers, Wis., during a storm with a load of 5,000 Christmas trees. Relics from the wreck, including Capt. Schuenemann’s wallet, washed ashore or were captured in fisherman’s nets for years. In 1971, the wreck of the Rouse Simmons was discovered by scuba diver Kent Bellrichard of Milwaukee.

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In 2000, the Coast Guard re-established the Christmas tree tradition in partnership with Chicago’s maritime community.